Angus McNae
Angus McNae's Racing UK Blog
Thursday 8th January 2015

Racing UK

Dirt is a true surface and Meydan waits for a true champion

The Dubai World Cup Carnival returns on Thursday with six races, three of which will be staged on the new dirt surface that has replaced the old Tapeta.

The move from synthetics to dirt mirrors the recent changes in America and signals a return to a different style of racing, but not a lesser one.

A synthetic surface lends itself to cruise and quicken style of racing. It is akin to, if not the same, as turf. Such a style is chaos-ridden because results are so pace dependant.

On dirt the chaos is more removed because races are run at a strong gallop from the outset, and thus results on dirt are a truer reflection of the competitors’ ability.

Dirt surfaces also produce true champions because horses in top-class races are forced to go a strong pace to avoid the kickback and to get a good trip.

This has to be preferable to top-class races on synthetics, which can resemble a farce if the gallop is not good.

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The old dirt surface at Nad Al Sheba produced the likes of Cigar, Dubai Millennium and Captain Steve and Sheikh Mohammed and the Meydan authorities have realized that the Dubai World Cup meeting needs a return to those glory days where the richest race in the world is won by the best horse in the race, not the horse that got the best trip.

There is no doubt that the dirt surface has also been put down to attract the best American horses and they will turn up on World Cup night. The Carnival has never been a meeting that they have fraternized extensively, but with big money on offer we can be sure they will turn up on March 28.

While Sheikh Mohammed has used the ‘build it and they will come’ approach, we must realize that the American thoroughbred is not as good as it once was. The standard of three-year-old required to win the Kentucky Derby is very much in decline. This is in large part due to tighter drug controls in America, and the infirmities that are hereditary courtesy of stallions who raced on drugs throughout their careers.

With this in mind we may not ever return to the dizzy heights of the Nad Al Sheba champions and for good reason, but this year there is the promise of the first three in the Breeders’ Cup Classic turning up for the World Cup, that would not have happened if they were still racing on a synthetic surface.

So what can we expect from the new dirt surface? The evidence of racing so far at Meydan suggests that it is a track/surface that very much suits prominent racers. The kickback is quite fierce, and early pace is definitely the key to success. Some horses have won from off the pace when challenging wide off an overly strong gallop. The surface seems to be quite deep and horses are finishing tired, but more importantly some horses are simply not handling it at all and this probably accounts for why some races have seen wide margins from first to last.

Horses with dirt pedigrees have obviously been performing well, and whilst some turf-bred horses used to get away with it on Tapeta they are generally struggling on the dirt. Let's not forget though that there is a turf track at Meydan as well and some top-class Carnival races on it.

Let's embrace the new surface and as analysts and punters we have to work with it and find angles, which is good news because this surface is the best in the world for finding a way into a race and that's is just what James Willoughby and I will be doing throughout the duration of the Carnival on .

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The first meeting on Thursday features Round One of the Al Maktoum Challenge, which provides us with something of a conundrum because the majority of the horses have not run on the surface.

Surfer and Enobled Friend represent the best dirt form on offer. They met last time and Surfer ran his rival down to win a shade cosily. If he is to win again he has to overcome stall one, which is not ideal on dirt and he has to avoid the dreaded bounce as that was his first run off a lay off.

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As for those that have not raced on dirt before, Outstrip strikes me as being one who may take to it and is worth taking a chance on to small stakes. 

Outstrip is totally unexposed off turf, having never run on dirt or Tapeta but being by Exceed and Excel he promises to at least handle the conditions and he could just improve for them. He boasts the best turf form in the race, as represented by his third to Kingman in the St James’s Palace Stakes and let's not forget he won the Breeders’ Cup juvenile Turf as a two-year-old. He can race prominently, which will be important and I am happy to go with him to beat a moderate field for a Grade Two.

My second selection is True Story in the Singspiel Stakes on Turf. This horse looked as if he could be a superstar when winning the Fielden Stakes at Newmarket last year. He posted a big speed figure despite being keen in the race. Unfortunately he did not go on for that. Trained for the Derby, he was probably pitched in too deep, too soon. Now he returns off a lay off, just as he did when winning the Fielden Stakes and returns to the trip that he won over there of nine furlongs.

He also meets the weakest field he has faced for a while, and I rate him as a decent bet to win. Whether he can follow up and go on improving is open to question but today could be his day.

Angus McNae's Thursday Dubai World Cup Carnival tips

5.05 Meydan: True Story at 5-2 generally available

5.40 Meydan: Outstrip at 5-1 with Coral and William Hill

FormGenie Horse Race Predictions